There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to breakfast. There is so much conflicting information out there, with some experts saying that intermittent fasting is best and others saying that skipping breakfast is the worst thing you can do for your metabolism. So what’s the truth, or at least, how can we get closer to the truth for ourselves?
I’ve personally experimented with each end of the spectrum, on top of looking at what the latest research says is most beneficial for our health. I’m going to break all of that down in this Breakfast Protocol, so you can find the best morning meal routine to optimize your day.
There’s one thing for certain that we can all agree on: the Westernized breakfast of cereal, donuts, pastries, pancakes, waffles, syrups, granola, and flavored yogurts or milk is not the right approach to breakfast. These foods spike our blood sugar dangerously high, which triggers insulin release. When this becomes a pattern over time, it can lead to excess belly fat and even make you more likely to develop chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes , obesity , and cancer . This high insulin state can also cause our blood sugar to drop too low, which can trigger panic attacks , mood swings , anxiety, depression , migraines , and poor cognitive function in children and adults .
Chronically spiking your blood sugar first thing in the morning sets you up to make poor food choices for the rest of the day by increasing the likelihood of reaching for more sugary foods and drinks for another quick energy boost. Over time, this can cause insulin resistance (prediabetes) which is related to infertility , cardiovascular disease , and Alzheimer’s . It’s super clear that eating a high-sugar breakfast (or any meal) more than on occasion increases your likelihood of developing chronic disease.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to breakfast. What works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else, but we can follow a few simple rules to get the most benefit. Try my Breakfast Protocol and see if you notice any improvement in your focus, mood, or energy levels after one week. My protocol contains the dos and don’ts around breakfast and includes ”Splurge!” items for people on-the-go and those looking to level up their health even more.
I. Don’t unintentionally skip breakfast. For many, mornings can be a rushed and hectic time, and breakfast is usually the first thing to go. By the time we do get to eat, it could be lunchtime or later, and we’re so hungry by then that we don’t always make the best food choices. This is where unintentionally skipping breakfast becomes problematic.
For this reason, research shows that skipping breakfast is not associated with weight loss , contrary to popular belief. It is associated with eating more unhealthy foods late at night and fewer fruits and vegetables during the day, increased risk for weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease .
A note about intermittent fasting:
Intermittent fasting is a highly beneficial and inexpensive practice that offers numerous health benefits . It works by restricting energy intake to specific periods of the day and prolonging fasting intervals between meals. I practice intermittent fasting regularly, but based on my research and learning from the work of Dr. Valter Longo, I choose to skip dinner instead of breakfast. Socially, this can present some challenges, but historically this is how the world practices. This is because we have naturally evolved to feed during the daytime while we’re active and it’s light outside and fast at night when it’s dark, and we’re asleep. Everybody thrives on different routines, so it’s crucial to find a schedule that works best for you. For a deeper discussion on this topic, see my interview with Dave Asprey.
A note about women and fasting:
It’s important for women in their reproductive years to eat breakfast because female metabolism is dynamic, meaning calorie and nutritional requirements change depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. It’s also really important to note that most intermittent fasting studies are on healthy male subjects. Failure to make this distinction leaves pre-menopausal women under the false impression that reported health benefits are equally translatable.
Time-restricted eating is a safe alternative to intermittent fasting that women in their child-bearing years can follow to experience the benefits of fasting. It doesn’t require calorie restriction and instead focuses on limiting eating to a 12-hour window that includes breakfast. Research shows that women who habitually skip breakfast have disrupted cortisol rhythms, higher circulating cortisol, elevated blood pressure, gallstones , and increased risk for insulin resistance, cardiometabolic disease, and infertility . To dig deeper into this topic, check out my conversations with Alisa Vitti and Dr. Stephanie Estima for more details on what you can do to honor the changing metabolic demands of your menstrual cycle.
II. Don’t have dessert for breakfast. Here are some examples of breakfast foods disguised as healthy that could be sending your blood sugar on a roller coaster without even knowing it.
A single glazed donut contains 10 grams of sugar as a means for comparison.
- Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt (1 container): 26g of sugar
- Nature’s Bakery Whole Wheat Fig Bars (1 bar): 19g of sugar
- Special K Red Berries (1 and 1/4 cup): 11g of sugar
+ Dairy Pure 2% Milk (1 cup): 12g of sugar
+ Tropicana Orange Juice (1 cup): 22 g of sugar
= 45 grams total sugar
- Gluten-free banana almond butter toast:
Little Northern Bakehouse Gluten-free Sprouted Oat bread (2 slices): 6g of sugar
+ Justin’s Cinnamon Almond Butter (2 tbsp): 4g sugar
+ Sliced banana (1 medium): 14g sugar
+ Drizzle of honey (1 tbsp): 17g sugar
= 41 grams total sugar
- Smoothie bowl:
Blue Almond Breeze Vanilla Almond Milk (1 cup): 13g sugar
+ Banana (1 medium): 14g sugar
+ Frozen Tropical Fruit Blend (1 cup): 15g sugar
+ Nature Valley Oats & Honey Granola (⅔ cup): 16g sugar
= 58 grams total sugar
What’s the takeaway? Err on the side of caution when it comes to packaged breakfast foods and always check the nutrition facts label for total sugars. Dairy-free milk alternatives are another lesser-known culprit of added sugars, with unsweetened oat milk being one of my top glucose spiking foods.
Natural sugars in fruits are a better choice because they contain fiber, which reduces the impact on our blood sugar, and vitamins and minerals that provide nutritional benefits. Be wary of high-glycemic fruits, as in tropical fruits and smoothie bowls. Our bodies can’t distinguish the difference between refined and natural sugars, and, in excess, these can send our blood sugar sky-high, too. Whether it’s a smoothie bowl or on its own, make sure to pair fruit (especially high GI fruits) with fat (like a tablespoon of nut butter) or chia seeds to blunt a high blood glucose response.
Don’t be fooled by labels like “gluten-free” or “whole-grain,” they don’t mean something is automatically healthy, and can still be dessert disguised as breakfast. My good friend and business partner, Dr. Mark Hyman says it best, gluten-free cookies, cakes, and donuts are just that—cookies, cakes, and donuts. These foods are made from refined flours like cassava and tapioca that are low in sugar and high in net carbs (carbs that our bodies absorb and quickly turn to sugar). I used to eat grain-free tortillas for breakfast until I started wearing my continuous glucose monitor and found that they spiked my blood sugar similar to a breakfast dessert. Now, I use napa cabbage leaves as my go-to breakfast wrap—they’re firm, hold well, and don’t raise my blood glucose! As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stick to eating whole foods and limit “healthy” packaged breakfast foods to special occasions.
I. Do eat by your circadian rhythm. A typical breakfast nuisance is that people aren’t hungry or feel nauseous when they wake up. Here are some ways you can try to increase your morning appetite.
1. Expose yourself to natural sunlight first thing in the morning. Repeated daily sunlight exposure in the early morning stimulates appetite by signaling your circadian rhythm to stop producing melatonin. Melatonin activates leptin, a hormone involved in appetite suppression .
2. Delay your breakfast by a few hours. Eating breakfast later in the morning (between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM) gives you more time to wake up and have more of an appetite. Our circadian rhythm also regulates insulin secretion and sensitivity, so waiting until after your morning cortisol burst (around 8:00 AM) can help ensure insulin is readily available for postprandial blood glucose control .
3. Stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. Eating late at night disrupts your sleep quality, leads to blood sugar dysregulation, and causes you not to be hungry in the morning to “break-fast” .
To learn more about the benefits of morning sunlight exposure and meal timing on sleep, check out my Step-By-Step Sleep Protocol.
II. Do have protein and fat for breakfast. The best kind of breakfast contains high-quality protein and healthy fats. A high-protein, high-fat breakfast is optimal for blood sugar control and steady energy levels throughout the day . It also helps control hunger and reduces sugar cravings . To learn more about why protein and fat make the better fuel source, check out my conversation with Dr. Benjamin Bikman.
Complex carbohydrates from whole grains and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, like quinoa, berries, sweet potatoes, and squash, offer various phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a great breakfast addition. Being plant-based by volume (i.e., your plate is covered mainly by plant foods) offers countless health benefits and can help lower your risk for chronic disease. However, the majority of your calories need to come from high-quality protein and fat sources. Nutrient absorption and bioavailability are highest from animal foods, but certain plant foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds are good sources, too.
In addition to eating protein and fat for breakfast, making sure most of your calories are consumed early in the day (split between breakfast and lunch) is critical, too. Eating earlier causes less late-night eating, better weight control, lower inflammation, improved circadian rhythm, increased autophagy (cellular clean-up) and stress resistance, and improved gut microbiome composition . Plus, eating three meals a day is a modern-day construct that doesn’t necessarily match our evolution as humans. As supported by the vigor of modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes, eating 1-2 meals per day may help promote optimal health, particularly in men, by supporting metabolic flexibility, or the ability to easily adapt from burning carbs to burning fat for energy [29.
Some benefits of being metabolically flexible include: being able to go for longer periods of time without eating, increased satiety, steady energy levels, increased autophagy, better sleep, and improved insulin sensitivity . This does not apply to women of childbearing years (see the note above on women and fasting for details).
- Pro Tip: Eating most of your calories for breakfast can be a challenge in Western societies, where dinner is looked at as a time to gather and socialize with friends and family and can quickly become a high-calorie meal. To avoid this, plan on eating dinner early and keep it light, especially if you’re eating out.
1. Eat dinner for breakfast. I love having dinner for breakfast! It’s an easy way to incorporate protein and fat into my morning meal and it’s a great way to reframe what you think of as “breakfast food,” especially if you’re stuck in a dessert for breakfast pattern.
- Fatty fish and grass-fed meats leftover from dinner with a side of cooked spinach or arugula make an excellent breakfast choice.
2. My breakfast go-to’s:
- Wild-caught smoked salmon or pasture-raised eggs with avocado, olives, and bok choy sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.
- Unsweetened chicken or turkey sausage with two big handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables.
3. Vegetarian option: Oatmeal is a common choice, but oats are highly processed and spike nearly everyone’s blood sugar. Unless you’re eating a small portion that’s balanced with plenty of protein and healthy fat, like almond butter, shaved nuts, or ghee, I recommend giving these recipes a try instead:
- Chia seed pudding is a great low-glycemic option that fulfills that dessert for breakfast craving!
- Veggie-filled egg frittata—includes 5 variations!
- Grain-free granola with full-fat grass-fed Greek yogurt, or unsweetened plain almond milk.
For more high-quality protein and healthy fat breakfast recipe inspiration, check out this awesome resource from my friends at Levels Health.
I. What if I’m running late? It’s essential to have a backup plan to avoid unintentional breakfast skipping. Not having a plan increases your likelihood of making poor on-the-go choices, like fast food breakfast sandwiches, baked goods, sugary flavored coffees, and energy drinks. High-quality, nutrient-dense protein bars are a great on-the-go option.
1. Vital Proteins Collagen Bars. These bars are gluten and dairy-free, high in protein and fat, low in sugar, and have no added flavors, colors, or preservatives. Try their Mint Chocolate Collagen Bar. Not only is it delicious, but it also contains only 2 grams of sugar.
2. Paleovalley Superfood Bars. Paleovalley’s bars are unique because they’re gluten-free, organic, have no added sugar or sugar alcohols, contain antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense superfoods, and 100% grass-fed bone broth protein. Their bars come in Apple Cinnamon and Dark Chocolate Chip flavors and I have to say, they are truly some of my favorite options when it comes to protein bars.
II. Monitor your blood sugar. My continuous glucose monitor has been a game-changer for me. I can see what foods spike my blood sugar (even healthy ones), how long it takes for my blood sugar to return to baseline, and how my stress, exercise, and lifestyle affect my blood sugar daily.
A continuous glucose monitor can help identify foods that spike your blood sugar so you can eat to optimize your sleep quality, weight, mood, and energy levels.
1. Levels. I recommend Levels continuous glucose monitor to friends and family because it gives you real-time biometric feedback right to your phone so you can see how your body reacts to food and exercise. The Levels app also compiles comprehensive reports each month of your best and worst foods and gives you feedback on ways to improve your metabolic health.
Use my link levels.link/dhru to skip the waitlist and sign up for their early-access program.
As mentioned before, Levels is pricey. But I tell my friends if you can try it just for a month you can apply the insights to your future lifestyle even if you aren’t using a CGM anymore.
Eating a breakfast high in quality proteins and fats is proven to set you up for better food choices throughout the day. It also offers significant health benefits ranging from increased energy levels and mental clarity to improved mood, weight maintenance, and more.
The best part about my Breakfast Protocol is that it’s something anyone can safely try on their own and experience the benefits. Give yourself a week to notice any improvements in energy, mood, or focus. If you don’t feel any different, that’s okay! You can always go back to how you did things before, keeping in mind the breakfast dos and don’ts that everyone can follow and benefit from.
If you tried any of the recommendations from my Breakfast Protocol, I would love to hear from you! Text me your feedback at 302-200-5643.
In health and gratitude,